Monday, August 22, 2011

Bread and Cup

Leesburg Grace is now offering a Gluten-free "This is My body" offering at Communion. We started this yesterday as our worship service closed with the Bread and Cup. It was appropriate because the sermon focused on Christ's humility and the Corinthian church's disarray. Their communion services provided a picture of freedom-gone-bad. Apparently the church's wine was better than the vat at home, and the bread fresher. Corinthians were gorging themselves on blood and body (1 Cor. 11:23-34). It's no wonder the early church earned a reputation for cannibalism.

Paul was not happy about this abuse of ordinance. The one bread was supposed to symbolize Jesus' broken body. The one cup reflected Jesus' shed blood (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Together the imagery remembers Christ Jesus humbled, crucified, and given as a substitute for the sins of the world.

Certainly, there is something mysterious about this picture of body and blood. Throughout church history it has excited disputes and incited divisions. Some suggest the elements literally turn into the body and blood of Jesus (i.e., Transubstatiation), as if the glorified Christ weekly transmitted His DNA from the heavens to our bakeries and vineyards. Fortunately, this change is in essence, not in form. Otherwise, I imagine, if a wafer felt like a flap of skin on one's tongue, we might have a collection of spit-0ut-flesh to clean off the floor.

Others suggest that the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, but Jesus' presence visits during the act of worship. Martin Luther authored this idea, both a reaction to Catholicism and the absurdity of Jesus becoming the elements. Luther's doctrine of "consubstantiation" was not wrong: Jesus is present during the Bread and Cup offering. Then again, Jesus told His apostles He would be with them "always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:20). In essence (or do I mean form?), Jesus is present with any meal, cup of coffee, or afternoon muffin blitz.

A plain (i.e., surface) reading of the Scriptures would suggest that Jesus' bread-breaking and wine-gulping gesture was a metaphor. Symbols and images help us remember deep spiritual truths. So we erect crosses in our churches to emphasize forgiveness. We wear prayer bracelets on our wrists to compel prayer. We put stuffed monkeys on our computer screens to ward off the demons of pornography. And we eat bread and drink grape juice to remember salvation is neither earned nor merited. It is received.

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